SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -After two straight seasons of surprising the experts, Notre Dame never came close to meeting expectations this year.
The Irish, who returned everyone except forward Rob Kurz from a team that finished 25-8 a year earlier, began the season ranked No. 9 and talked about winning the Big East and advancing to the NCAA Final Four for the first time since 1978. Instead, their season was derailed by a seven-game losing streak with the Irish finishing as the league's No. 10 seed and ending up in the National Invitation Tournament final four.
It wasn't what the Irish had in mind last fall.
In a season when the Big East shone brightest, the Irish found themselves fighting to remain pertinent, starting with an embarrassing 71-65 loss to St. John's. The Irish finished with a 21-15 record, a loss shy of the total defeats for the previous two seasons and the most losses since going 22-15 in 1999-2000, a year before Mike Brey arrived as coach.
anking heading into the new year and a 90-57 win over Louisville to end their losing streak.
Looking ahead to next season, how good they can be likely depends on whether Luke Harangody decides to return for his senior season. Harangody, who has led the Big East in scoring and rebounding in back-to-back seasons, plans to meet with Brey next week to discuss his future.
Brey hinted after the Irish lost to Penn State in New York on Tuesday night that he thinks Harangody should at least test the NBA waters, praising the NCAA rule that allows players to declare for the draft and then reconsider depending on what they learn.
``This is a kid who needs to take advantage of this rule and see what's out there. The nice thing is you have plenty of time to do that over the next couple of months,'' he said.
Underclassmen have until April 26 to declare themselves eligible for the draft. They then have until June 15 to withdraw.
In his eight previous seasons at Notre Dame, Brey has had three players declare for the draft. Troy Murphy in 2001 decided to keep his name in and was picked 14th by the Golden State Warriors. In 2003, Chris Thomas returned for his junior year after being told he likely would not be a first-round pick. He ended up playing four years at Notre Dame and was never drafted. In 2005, Torin Francis withdrew his name from the draft and came back for his senior year. He also was never drafted.
Brey said all three players made the right choices.
``I want to make sure we go four-for-four with Luke, whatever that means,'' he said.
Guard Tory Jackson, a classmate of Harangody, said he is excited about next season.
``I'm happy with what we've got going. We've got a great group of young guys,'' he said. ``I'm very excited about next year. I want to start early now. We really have a chip on our shoulder.''
The Irish will lose starters Kyle McAlarney, Ryan Ayers and Zach Hillesland, and Luke Zeller, a regular contributor.
They add two transfers with NCAA tournament experience - Ben Hansbrough, a 6-foot-3 guard who started 28 of Mississippi State's 34 games during the 2007-08 season and was fourth on the team with a 10.5 scoring average, and Scott Martin, a 6-foot-8 forward who started eight games for Purdue the same season, averaging 8.5 points and 3.8 rebounds. They also will add four freshmen.
The biggest thing Notre Dame may have going for it is next season will be lowered expectations, which means they likely won't have one of the league's most difficult schedules. This year the Irish played a school-record 12 ranked teams.
Brey pointed out Tuesday night that with 70 victories in three seasons, the junior class has a chance to post the most victories ever at Notre Dame. The senior classes of 1979 and 1981 both had 92 victories.
For now, though, the Irish will have to wait and see whether Harangody will be back to help them try to achieve that goal.

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